"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, April 20, 2015

Education Reform In the Philippines Must Begin Where We Currently Stand

If there is a gap that needs to be addressed in Philippine basic education, it is the completion rate. The completion rate in both elementary and secondary levels has stubbornly remained near seventy percent.

"Instead of adding two additional years, why not first fix the foundation in the primary education?" is a statement made by Rene Tadle, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas and lead convenor of the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities of the Philippines (COTESCUP), during a discussion on DepEd's K+12 curriculum. 

Professor Rene Tadle
A discussion on K+12
Tadle, in his opening statement during the discussion "K+12: Go or No Go?" mentions low enrollment in colleges in 2016 that may result in labor problems in higher education. Tadle emphasizes that this is only one perspective that comes from college teachers, a group he represents. Tadle briefly switches to a more general one, citing that the two additional years do not really address the more pressing concern of basic education in the Philippines, the failure of "education for all". Unfortunately, the discussion of how K+12 addresses the major problems of Philippine basic education has become a minor issue.

There are stages in improving basic education. Mona Mourshed and coworkers explain the importance of identifying these stages in the Mickinsey Report "How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better". Below is an excerpt.

There is poor, fair, good and great, as shown in the following figure. It has taken several decades for Singapore to move from one stage to the next.

Above copied from
"How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better"

The Philippines must take into account where it currently stands so that its educational system can take the right course for improvement. Given the following examples, the Philippines falls near "Fair" or "Poor":

Above copied from 
"How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better"
From this point, it is helpful to look at the themes of successful education reforms in the group, "Fair to Poor":
  • Providing scaffolding and motivation for low skill teachers and principals 
  • Getting all schools to minimum quality standard
  • Getting students in seats
Of the above three, there is no question that the Philippines needs to meet minimum quality standards for all schools as well as keep children in school. These have been achieved by "improving school facilities and resources to a minimum threshold adequate for attendance and learning", "providing textbooks and learning resources to every student", and "meeting the basic needs of children (meals, clothing, transportation, toilets). Failing in any of these items obviously does not get an educational system to go even beyond the "fair" stage.  But when it works, like in Western Cape, "education for all" becomes more of a reality than an illusion:

Above copied from 
"How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better"
The above is not as exciting as adopting pedagogy models, but without addressing first the minimum requirements of schooling, even basic numeracy and literacy are impossible to reach. To appreciate how improved school systems keep improving, the following paragraph from the report is worth reading:
The pattern we have found shows that all the school systems that are successful in achieving sustained improvement within a given performance journey share a common set of characteristics in what they do and how they do it. One reason why this pattern may have been previously obscure could be due to the fact that these characteristics change over time, depending on what stage of the journey the school system has reached. In the early days, outcomes improvement is all about stabilizing the system, reducing variance between classrooms and schools, and ensuring basic standards are met. At this stage of the journey, the reforms are almost always driven from the center. Later, as the system improves, the engine for improvement shifts to instructional practices. This, by its very nature, has much less to do with the centre and is primarily driven by the teachers and the schools themselves: it is all about turning schools into learning organizations. The pattern only becomes clear when this one spot is studied assiduously: without this, it is all too easy to confuse what is needed at one stage with what is necessary at another, quite different, stage.
Philippine basic education still remains in the lowest stage and support from a strong central government is still very much needed. There is no quick fix. This support includes meeting first the basic needs of children and teachers. The fact that the Philippine government still fails to provide what teachers and children need in school is the strongest argument against DepEd's K+12.

Sadly, the Philippine government has chosen to skip this important part and simply jump to the next. And in the stage that the Philippines has chosen, improving instructional practices, it misses the important lesson learned from other countries, "This, by its very nature, has much less to do with the centre and is primarily driven by the teachers and the schools themselves."

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